Pic.: Nirmala Sundar
Early this morning, I called up my younger brother, Vivek, and expressed my concern. Rather, I cautioned him!
Vivek is a very affectionate, generous and soft-spoken soul and surrounded by loads of friends, mostly non-Christians. He is married to Gauri, a Maharashtrian Hindu, and they had both Church and Temple marriage ceremonies. Ditto was the case of Melvin, my wife’s brother, and his wife Amrita, a Maharashrtian Hindu. They celebrate at home both Hindu and Christian festivals… and the beauty is: for them, their parents and children, the religion doesn't matter at all… It has never been an issue for so many years!
Honestly, I find my two sisters-in-law, both Gauri (Vivek’s wife) and Amrita (Melivn’s wife) to be the most wonderful, the most loving women in this world. All our relatives love them… and, Vivek and Melvin, both, have been accepted and loved immensely by all relatives of Gauri and Amrita… Their respective children are growing up, now. Soon, a time will come for them to make their own choices… To marry a Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh or whoever it would be. I think, as parents, Vivek and Gauri, Melvin and Amrita would, certainly, provide them that freedom – that space. To me, that’s the religion of the highest order!
When, at the age of 21, I came to live with my uncle, here in Mumbai, I had chosen to live with a hardcore Jehovah’s Witnesses. For those who do not know who a Jehovah’s Witnesses is, let me tell you this: They are a Christian sect, who believe to be the true Christians… who believe in spreading the Bible message so much, that you get that terrible pain in your soul… You detest! Yes, my uncle was a thorough gentleman, an ex-serviceman, an affectionate and caring soul… But, when it came to faith, he believed his faith in Christ was superior to mine, a Roman Catholic… He made me feel, that I did not know the Bible at all… and it was important that I did study and follow it as he did. Yes, initially, he tried to convince me – call it ‘convert’ if you wish… But, even though my position was vulnerable – I lived in his house for seven-long years of my struggle in Mumbai – he did not ‘push’ his faith on me. I respect him for that, even today!
Give me my religious freedom, my space to grow… Amen!
It doesn't mean that I have chosen my own faith – Roman Catholic – as something superior to all else. Far, far from it. I go for a mass only when my heart takes me there. I receive Holy Communion only when I feel I am worthy of it… I have never been for confession for decades… I have forgotten even the basic, routine prayers of my faith… So, if you judge me by all that, I am not fit to be a Roman Catholic… But, the fact that I am still allowed to continue inside is, perhaps, the great beauty of my faith!
But, whether I am allowed to continue as a Catholic or not, it hardly matters for me. No one can take away from me the inspiration Jesus Christ has left in my soul. I am His follower and call me a Christian or a Hindu or Muslim, it makes no difference. I feel the same way when I think of Krishna, Ram, Paigamber, Buddha, Mahavir or Guru Nanak. Their teachings make me equally feel that I am a Christian or a Hindu or Muslim or whatever that is…
I have taught thousands of students over all these years. Not even 0.001% of those students have been Christians. Ditto for my colleagues, neighbors, and friends… They have been, always, non-Christians. I dare not push my faith on them, and they dare not push theirs on me! The housing society in which I live has 140 members, of which hardly five are Christian families. Yes, for six-long years I, a Christian, have been their Hon. Chairman. When Ganesh Utsav is celebrated in our complex, it is Tabassum, a young Muslim lady, who stands there in the middle and compeers the programme for all seven days! She has been doing it for more than a decade now! Hanifbhai, who lives right below my flat, doesn't fail to invite several of us – all non-Muslims – on Eid day for a sumptuous Biryani treat!
And, why am I writing all this, today?
My brother Vivek was very angry with what was being said about Mother Teresa and the consequent hate messages and heated debate. He had expressed his dismay in strong words in social media, and, this morning, I was telling him not to vent out his anger or hurt on any social media. “Not that you cannot or should not,” I told my younger brother, “but, because, it doesn't serve any purpose. It only adds to more problems.”
Well, my brother respected my view. But, he is his own man, after all!
“Fools and fanatics are so sure of themselves,” goes the old saying. No reason or logic works when you debate with them… They are ruled by mob mentality. It is dangerous!
The words of one of the survivors of Hitler’s Nazi-torture come to my mind, today:
“I did not know I was a Jew till Hitler made me think so!”
Why am I made to think, today, that I am a ‘Christian’ or a ‘Roman Catholic’?